I was walking through the campus today when I heard a very loud scream. I quickly turned around and saw a small child, perhaps 5 or 6 sprawled out in the middle of the crowded main entrance screaming and kicking her feet, while her mother looked on in horror. As I stood there observing the dynamics between mother and child I couldn’t help notice how people would just go about their business as if the child was not there. I don’t know what was upsetting me more: the mother/child dynamic or the people desensitized to the situation. I continued to watch in utter amazement as this mother, who appeared to be in her 30’s, argue with this small child. She threatened, she berated, she cajoled, and finally she said to the child, who was escalating now, "if you don’t get up I am leaving you here!"
I don’t know what the mother was thinking, but when she threatened to abandon the child, the child went ballistic. The mother started to blush and tears began to swell up in her eyes. Just then one of my students came by and said, "Can you believe that mother?" I looked at her and said, "perhaps I should intervene?" Without waiting for a response from my student I began to approach the wailing child.
I looked at the mother as I proceeded towards her child, and offered her a reassuring smile. I kneeled closely to the child and asked her what was wrong. She had no problem verbalizing to me what her problem was; however she was crying so hard that I couldn’t make it out. I looked at her and gently said, "it is difficult to understand you when you are crying, can you sit-up and tell me what is bothering you, maybe I can help." The child sat up, her tiny face swollen and red, big tears streaming down her cheeks, and said, "I want a happy meal!"
Here I thought something awful had happened and all she wanted was a happy meal, however because her mother refused, she threw a fit. I looked at her, and said, "you know I have a daughter about your age, and when she wants something she asks for it nicely, and she knows that sometimes I have to say no. But crying is not ok and she never gets what she wants when she cries."
The child immediately stopped crying and looked at me. "What a beautiful face you have and look at how red it is from crying," I said. Well, then she started to cry again, "I want to clean it!" I had to hold back the laughter at what this child was getting away with, and said, "If you stop crying I will show you something magical."
She immediately, stopped, and I said to her mother, "Let’s show her the special magically door to the bathroom, so she can clean her face up." We took the child to the bathroom door and I said, "You have to say the magical words as you push this red button. The magic words are open sesame!" The child repeated my words as she pushed the red button and the door magically opened for her! "Look mom! Look at what I did!" She exclaimed! The mother thanked me profusely for distracting her daughter and stopping the cycle.
Why am I sharing this story with you? I guess because I remember a time when people helped each other, when communities cared about their families, and when people were in need we instinctually knew how to help. Was it wrong for me to stop and help? Did I stick my nose in someone else’s business? Was it my business to stop what was happening on private property? The child could have been stepped on during class change. The mother could have ended up doing something that she would regret.
Does it really take a village to raise a child? Or does it merely take one person to make a difference? What I modeled for that mother and child today was an alternative to the way they communicated in the past. Will mom realize the benefit of what she observed me do with her child? Perhaps. Will the child remember that asking nicely and understanding that sometimes we can’t get everything we want? Probably not. But, if the mother continues to model appropriate behavior the child will learn. Children Learn What They Live.